Flea markets and Mumford and Sons


The sun was casting long shadows and a cool wind was picking up when we reached the back side of First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas.

We’d walked across the small but spread-out town, pausing for lemonade and a bear claw split among 12, hurrying past leather shops and cowboy hats and overpriced antiques and Texas-style furniture and decor and huge metal-sculptures of bulls or rearing horses.

We’d lingered in Dog Alley, pausing to admire little balls of fur with piercing blue eyes that were huskies, or smaller ones curled under heating lights. Most looked at least a little sickly. One looked dead.

We’d walked through a pile of assorted junk much too quickly, leaving so many treasures undiscovered, but time was short and few were interested in lingering between old safes and machetes and pipe stands and rotary telephones and dust-covered video cassettes.

But we slowed on the far side, past the pavilions, past the Arbors that cater to Dallas crowds with their highly priced wares, across a trash-choked stream to wide fields shaded with old trees, where men and woman slept in tents or ancient campers behind their tables even in this January weekend.

The sun was setting fast when we arrived, adding a chill to the generally mild and sunny winter Sunday afternoon. Most of them were packing up already. Not that many people travel to Canton over New Years, First Monday Trade Days or no. Those who still had trinkets and vases and mugs and old books and records and chalkboards and tea kettles and any other random thing imaginable spread across tables offered half off, more, on anything we wanted.

We lingered there. A huge bear of a dog padded up to greet us. I wandered away, to another table whose proprietor was just starting his packing up process.

“If you want anything from next door, let me know, that guy wandered off and left me in charge,” he told me. Then he amended his story.

“Actually, he’s sleeping in his tent back there. We stayed up too late, playing cards. I got a few dollars off him.” He looked a little warily at me, as though imparting a secret.

“Don’t play cards with any of these folks around here,” he said. “They cheat.”

Noted.

Back at the first table, Ellie was looking at the books. She’d been promised a free one if she found one she liked. That vendor was also starting the packing up process, slowly and half-heartedly.

“Any of you heard of Mumford and Sons?” He called as we spread out between his tables.

I hadn’t, but J, leaving that stand to head to another, came back quickly.

And they chatted long, it seemed, about Mumford and Sons and music and a few strains came through the dusty speakers and he came away with a CD, a gift, I guess, from a tired old vendor happy to find another enthusiast.

So we hurried home, back between pavilions, dodging pick-up trucks loaded down with wares as they hit the road again. The shadows fell longer; he carried the littlest shopper, the 8-year-old who hates to be called little but eagerly accepts a piggy-back ride, new Christmas moccasins stretched out into the fading sunlight.

We’re home now, leaving warm Texas sunshine to be greeted with snowfall when we landed in Pittsburgh. It’s still falling now, four to seven inches through tomorrow.

But Mumford and Sons sang clear as we unpacked, cycling laundry through the machines and eating pancakes and spam for dinner.

And they brought with them the warmer air, the dust and the hay and the animal smells and the human sweat, of First Monday Trade Days and the cluttered booth where we found them.

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